May 31, 2013

On May 31, 2013, Susan Roth and Chris Martin woke up as an unmarried couple for the last time. Little did they know what the day would hold.

We had graduated from college 13 days before and had been finishing final preparations for the wedding and our life after ever since.

I remember the Saturday before the wedding when the reality of “wedding week” punched me in the gut. The entire week leading up to our wedding I felt varying levels of nausea at all times.

When I woke up in the morning on Friday, May 31st, the feelings of nausea woke with me. I don’t remember all the details of the morning, but I think it was the typical lazy summer morning at my parents’ house: too many cups of coffee on the front porch, a walk with the dog, and some breakfast.

I remember checking the weather and thinking, “Nice! We may get some rain tonight, but tomorrow looks pretty clear.” A rainy wedding day puts a damper on things when you have lots of outdoor pictures planned.

Groomsmen were due to arrive around midday for the rehearsal dinner later that night. I think we had lunch plans to go to Coney Island, the New-York-style hot dog joint in downtown Fort Wayne. But honestly, I can’t remember for sure.

Why?

The Phone Call

Around midday, shortly after the groomsmen who were staying the night at my house arrived, I received a phone call from Luke Johnson. Luke was a volunteer leader in my high school youth group and continued to be a friend as I went through college.

I was confused why he was calling. Maybe to tell me he couldn’t attend the wedding because of an emergency?

“Chris, I’ve got some bad news,” he said.

“Yep,” I thought, “They can’t come. Bummer.”

“Phil is sick and has to have an emergency appendectomy today. He cannot perform your wedding tomorrow.”

*record scratch*

“Wait, what?” I’m sure I said, or at least something to that effect.

“Yeah he’s incredibly disappointed he can’t perform your wedding, but he won’t be able to do it.”

Phil Knuth was the youth pastor Susie and I grew up under as our relationship began and endured its early, rocky stages in high school. Phil was one of the few people attending the wedding who had had a bird’s eye view of our entire relationship.

To not have Phil perform our wedding was devastating news.

And now I had to call Susie.

Susie was busy getting manicures and pedicures with her bridesmaids across town. Eventually I got through to her and told her the news. She took it well on the phone, but it hit after she hung up.

It was a blow. It was sad news. But it would be OK as far as the wedding logistics were concerned. We had two other pastors reading Scripture and praying at the wedding, and we knew we could get one of them to do the ceremony on 24-hour notice. One of them had even done a lot of pre-marital counseling with us while we were at school. So we called him first.

“Hey Mark. I’ve got a favor to ask. It’s a big one.”

Thankfully, because he is an incredible man and pastor, Mark Biehl agreed to do more than just read Scripture at the wedding. He was already attending the rehearsal dinner that night, so it wasn’t a hassle for him to grab a marriage sermon and prep for the next day. He’s a pro.

A Typical Rehearsal Dinner

After the terrible news about the sick pastor around the middle of the afternoon, the rehearsal dinner went smoothly. Everyone who needed to be at the church was at the church. Mark did not seem too nervous about the fact that he had just been asked to perform a wedding for about 400 people about 24 hours before it was time.

We went to 816 Pint & Slice pizza for the dinner afterward. It looked like it was going to rain. But we didn’t care. It was a good time with some of my favorite people in the world, eating pizza, having some laughs, and trying to forget about the nerves that came along with remembering you’re getting married tomorrow.

The Rain

After the rehearsal dinner it was time to go home, try to get some sleep, and not freak out about getting married the next day. Susie and I said our goodbyes at dinner because we would not see one another, or try to talk to one another at all, until I saw her walking down the aisle.

It was about midnight. My family and the groomsmen staying at my house all went to bed, and I sat down at the card-table-turned-desk in my childhood bedroom and wrote the last of 16 letters I had written to Susie each month of our 16-month engagement (I know).

As I was finishing the letter, I got an emergency alert on my phone. You know the kind. The kind that somehow blares the most alarming beep you’ve ever heard and makes your phone vibrate out of its casing? Yeah that one. It scared me.

“FLASH FLOOD WARNING—ALLEN COUNTY, IN,” it read.

“Wow,” I thought, “I didn’t realize it was raining that hard.”

I wasn’t at all concerned, though. Flash flood warnings happened a lot in our home county because three big rivers meet in the middle of downtown Fort Wayne. They flood when it rains really hard. It was a common occurrence. Our house never flooded other than basement sump pump malfunctions.

I couldn’t see very well out my bedroom window, so I finished up my note and decided to tiptoe down the steps to the foyer to look out the front door to see how hard it was raining.

My stomach dropped.

My blood pressure skyrocketed.

I got that feeling you get when you’ve just been caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing.

“Oh my God,” I whispered to myself, “The road is shiny. I cannot see the wheels of the cars parked on the street.”

I had two immediate thoughts:

1) “I need to text someone at Susie’s house because if our street is this bad, Susie’s house is going to flood.” (Susie lived near one of the main rivers and her house had flooded before.)

2) “I need to check our basement.”

I texted Susie’s maid of honor and told her what I was seeing. She told me they knew it was bad and were monitoring it. I wanted her to keep Susie calm.

Then, I opened the door to the basement.

I flicked the light on.

I walked halfway down the steps.

I saw the sopping carpet.

My heart began to beat faster than it ever has and my feet stomped up the stairs in harmony.

I began yelling at the top of my lungs, “THE BASEMENT IS FLOODING. THE BASEMENT IS FLOODING. WHY DOES THIS HAVE TO BE HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?!”

My parents sprung awake and came downstairs, as did my groomsmen. (It should be noted my little brother slept through this ENTIRE ordeal.)

Dad and I began trying to bail water out of the basement, but it was no use.

The basement was flooded because the place the sump pump sends the water was flooded. No amount of work we could do was going to fix that.

My friends had cars in the street they had to try to get up into the driveway. One of them could not find his keys for at least an hour, but he eventually found them and was able to save his car.

At one point a truck drove down the street and the other cars parked there bobbed in the waves of its wake like buoys by the beach.

A neighbor two doors down from us was half naked, wading in the water with a beer in his hand, clearing leaves and other refuse out of the drain so the water had a place to go. It was like a scene out of Christmas Vacation.

All told, I believe we ended up having about a foot of standing water in our basement.

At Susie’s house, the scene was even more dramatic.

Eventually, they realized they had to leave the house. They grabbed the wedding gifts, Susie’s wedding dress, the other wedding items, loaded up into cars, and went across the street and up the hill to Susie’s grandmother’s house.

Susie’s house ended up with about a foot of standing water as well. It eventually led to her mom moving out of that house—the only house she had ever owned.

Susie didn’t sleep that night. It was about 3:30am before I went to sleep, so I got about three hours or so. I had trouble going to sleep because I was afraid the street was going to be so flooded we wouldn’t be able to leave in the morning, and I was afraid the church was going to be under water as well. It was only a couple of miles from my house.

You have to understand: I started liking Susie in the eighth grade. I wanted to date her throughout high school. I truly believed, even if just for a moment, that this rain was some cosmic force doing all it could to prevent us from being married.

A Happy Ending

In the end, it all worked out.

The rain was gone from the street by the time I woke up.

The church was not flooded.

Mark was able to do the wedding and he did a great job.

You forgot about the appendicitis thing, didn’t you?! That all happened BEFORE the flood.

We had a little bit of rain on the wedding day, but it was mainly overcast and perfect for pictures.

Other than Susie and I and our families having to put our best smiles on for 12 hours straight for the wedding despite having little-to-no sleep, it was a great day.

Praise God for adrenaline and caffeine.

As of tomorrow, Susie and I will be married for five years.

Neither one of us expected to be where we are right now.

But we could not be happier about it.

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